Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Exorcism within the Orthodox Tradition

Many films have puzzled everyone with their depiction of exorcisms and demon worship. However, it is interesting to identify what the Church believes. Here the Orthodox point of view will be given, but we first need to identify the source of this issue, i.e. the Devil.
The Devil was created by God as an angel, called Eosforos, being the brightest of the angles. However, due to his free will he chose to oppose God’s plans. Hence he and those who followed him became fallen angels, being not evil in nature but by will and action.  In the Bible they are referred to by various names, depending on the work they are assigned to, such as: devil, satan, serpent, deceiver, father of lies, tempter, Lucifer, murdered, chief of darkness, dragon, veelzevoul, veliar and eosforos. They wished to be independent from God, therefore a revolution took place among the angels, as expressed in Revelations 12:7-9,
“And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him”.
Satan has under his control and leadership legions and invisible powers; all of whom know and accept the existence of God, recognising therefore the true and devoted Christians. Their goal is to employ methods or deception in order to enslave man against God and the Heavenly Kingdom. Demons oppose the redemptive work of Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind. They place obstacles in order to lead the faithful away from God. However, the Apocalypse (2:10) states: “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life”.  This fight against good and evil will prevail until the end of days, until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, where the Devil will be destroyed.

The first to exorcise demons within the Christian tradition was Christ. In the New Testament he often expelled demons from the possessed (Mark 1:23-27, Luke 4:33-35, 9:43, Matthew 10:1, Mark 16:17, Matthew 7:22). However, the NT rejected popular uses of magic incantations and rites, as seen in all the Hollywood movies, due to the fact that they took advantage of superstitious religiosity (Acts 19:13).
Therefore we read in the New Testament that in the name of Christ, one is able to cast out demons and to destroy the evil powers, (Matthew 10:8). Church Fathers even refer to the issue of demons and exorcism, showing that this is a belief and a practice which is real for the Church. Orthodoxy accepts demonic possession of individuals and even of objects through the Sacrament of Baptism, where the satanic powers are exorcised.
To banish the demons, the Church instituted the service called exorcism. The word derives from the Greek word εξορκίζειν that means to deliver from evil spirits, to expel (an evil spirit). The exorcisms are prayers said by the priest in order to invoke God and expel evil spirits. The renunciation of the Devil during the Sacrament of Baptism shows the importance of this belief, introducing the newly baptised person into the communion with God, a soldier of Christ, fighting thus the ‘good war’ against the evil spirits.
The priest states:
“Drive out from him (her) every evil and unclean spirit, hiding and lurking in his (her) heart. The spirit of error, the spirit of evil, the spirit of idolatry and of all covetousness that works according to the teaching of the devil. Make him (her) a reason endowed sheep of the holy of Your Christ...”
Later on in the Sacrament a dialogue commences:
“Do you renounce Satan, and all his work, and all his worship, and all his angels, and all his pomp?
I do renounce him
Have you renounced Satan?
I have renounced him.
Then blow and spit on him.
Do you join Christ?
I do join Him...”
So we understand here that it is a requirement that the faithful have to oppose evil and take the side of God. However, there are other prayers written by Saints, such as Saint Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom. They are prayers for those who are afflicted by demons and sickness in general.  Other prayers were written by St. Modestos, Martyr Trifon, St. Hypatios (who wrote an exorcism prayer for afflicted men and animals), St. Mamas and many more.
These prayers were normally read in order to protect a person from affliction, rather than after some demonic influence. The service of exorcism (outside Baptism) is a simple service, where the priest merely reads out the prayers. This is the case because it was not to be used frequently by the Church, since the service of catechumens at the Service of Baptism was considered sufficient for the banishment of evil.
How does someone determine that one is possessed? It is a hard thing to accomplish, especially when one looks at past cases, mainly during the medieval era in the West. There should be a distinction, between psychological problems and possession; however, the exorcist has no certain criteria to determine whether or not a person is actually possessed. 
What we all need to achieve, in order to live a good and prosperous life, according to God’s will is to follow his commandments, his example and liv within a constant state of communion (koinonia) with Him. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”, (Rom. 12:21). 

No comments:

Post a Comment